Over on Facebook (Hinota Whanui page for those accessing it) there is a lively discussion about the shift in paradigm at St John's College, Auckland involved in committing to finding a principal to lead the College forward. The shift, for those unaware of the recent history of the College, is a shift from (effectively) a triumverate of deans, one for each tikanga (cultural stream), leading the College, to a principal leading the College in association with the three deans. The starting point for the discussion is the question of whether this shift spells the end of the Three Tikanga Church or not.
I think the question worth asking but the answer does not depend on the model of leadership at St John's College. The end of the Three Tikanga Church comes as we neglect what the 'Church' part of the phrase means: one body in Christ. If our exploration and working out of the Three Tikanga model for church has no point or points of unity, then the model is doomed. If we recognise that our diversity is bound together by common accord (one gospel, one faith, one baptism, one Lord ... one constitution, one set of canons, one General Synod) then the model always has room for one leader (e.g. Primate, Chair of a three tikanga committee, Principal of our main theological college). The role of the single leader is to draw the strands of tikanga life together, to work with the three tikanga on common goals and common life, to cast a vision for the future of the church in which we grow into the one Bride of Christ.
I have been a visitor, observer and listener concerning life at St John's College for some seventeen years now. I was a Tikanga Pakeha rep on a review group about eight years ago (which led to the establishment of the Anglican Studies programme) and last year I was part of the Tikanga Pakeha appointing group which appointed the current dean of pakeha life at the College. From that mostly outside perspective I am convinced that the model for leadership which has no single principal (a) never worked well, (note 1) and (b) has come to an end (note 2). Structurally, the lack of a single principal meant there was a model in which power struggles were inevitable. At best there could be a call on the Board of Governors to exercise leadership, to 'referee' in debates over which tikanga way should prevail and so forth. Such calls were difficult. Even the 'Board of Governors' role changed significantly over the seventeen years (from delegated responsibility to the former Board of Oversight to the abolition of that Board and a resumption of governance by Te Kotahitanga (i.e. the canonical Board of Governors), but that governance had to take place amidst a multitude of other responsibilities of Te Kotahitanga concerning theological education and ministry formation in our church.
Over that period the College has professed a rhetoric of three tikanga life and all too frequently from the lips of luminaries in our church phrases such as the 'jewel in the crown' have been heard. The reality has been somewhat different: each tikanga has sought from the College what it believes it has needed for the development of its ministry and mission. Quite different agenda have pulled the College this way and that. In the process the College has moved in focus from being exclusively (and therefore intensively) focused on theological education and ministry formation in a cohesive community to be a series of communities, both tikanga communities, and communities with different learning outcomes (so some students at the College have utilised the provision of College accommodation in order to train for vocations other than the ordained ministry). The only value judgement I make here about the way in which life has developed at the College since it became a three tikanga college is that it has not represented diversity-in-unity as one church of three tikanga. Instead it has been a place where three tikanga have tried their best to pursue three differing visions for the future of their tikanga lives.
In theory such development of the College could be a good thing (i.e. I am wrongly evaluating the direction it has taken), but in practice it has led to a crisis of confidence in the College. Tikanga which seek from the College what fits that Tikanga's hopes and dreams are liable to go elsewhere when the College is perceived no longer to be so fitted. In the particular case of both Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha, we have seen over these last seventeen years developments in ministry training and formation away from the College. Cutting a long analysis of the situation short, I suggest that Te Kotahitanga is working to refocus the College on its 'core business' (theological education and ministry formation) and to sharpen its leadership structure (one principal should be able to steer the College more quickly in the directions the Tikanga discern to be the future of the church).
Without this change to a single principal, would we have a College to fight over? Critics of the current move, I suggest, may not be aware of how perilous the future of the College is (I am not talking about next year but about five to ten years hence). It has lost its mojo as the College everyone wants to go to and become the College that people consider going to among other options. It needs to regain its mojo and a single principal is needed (along with some other changes) to achieve that.
All this can and will lead to enhancement of our life together as a Three Tikanga Church. The appointment of a single principal at SJC does not spell the end of that life.
Note 1: I am speaking about the "model." I am not saying that there have not been good things that have happened at the College or that there have not been significant things achieved during the life of the model. But there have been too many stories through the time of the model, of life at the College, stories marked by unhappiness, complaints, grizzles, and, in some cases suppression in public discussion of deep concerns about matters, for some sanguine view of the model to prevail. A single principal of the College would and could have stopped many of these stories before they were written into the book of the life of the College.
Note 2: Thus I do not credit those who wish to undo the ending of the model, which effectively took place over two years ago at GS 2010.